Inuyama is by no means a large city, with only 75,000 inhabitants, but it is draped in history. Although Inuyama castle is on the small side, having four floors and two hidden, underground levels, it not only boasts a beautiful vista of the Kiso river, being perched on top of a 40 meter hill, it is also one of the oldest castles in Japan, having been built in 1537 by Oda Nobuyasu.
During and immediately after the second world war, Allied forces targeted Japanese castles, as they were both a symbol of Imperialism and often the pride of a city. Their wooden frames meant that they were easily torched and the damage to the morale of the Japanese people that their destruction brought meant they were an obvious target. Whether Inuyama Castle escaped destruction through luck or oversight is unknown, but the castle became a national treasure in 1935 and again in 1955, after the American occupation of Japan had ended.
Besides its castle, Inuyama celebrates many traditional Japanese art forms, be it Ukai Fishing, large street festivals or Bunraku, or puppet theatre.
Modern Bunraku got its name from an Osaka based theatre that was founded in 1872. Although many of the puppet troupes predate the opening of the theatre, the Uemaru Bunraku reinvigorated the art-form, which was waning in popularity at the time.
Much like Rakugo, a single narrator often tells the story of the show, changing the pitch or tone of their voice to distinguish one character from another. The narrative is usually accompanied with shamisen music and drums, as well as various bells and whistles.
Bunraku is also said to draw a vast amount of inspiration from traditional Kabuki; depicting many plays associated with the all-male theatre. It is also far more adult that western puppet shows, tackling such mature themes as love affairs, feuds and suicide. It often romanticizes violence and self-sacrifice, traits associated with the honored Samurai class of days long past in Japan.
Although the puppets vary in size dependent on the individual character needed for a play, how large the puppets are may also vary depending on which region of the country you happen to watch Bunraku in. But no matter where you happen to watch the play, some of the larger puppets take up to three people to operate:
The main puppeteer, or omozukai, is in charge of the puppet’s right hand. The hidarizukai controls the left hand, whereas the ashizukai operates the feet and legs.
Training to become a puppeteer is a long and grueling process, and becoming an omozukai can take 30 years or more. Every puppeteer begins by controlling the puppets feet and legs, , after which they can graduate to the position of hidarizukai and can then control the left hand. Only after these two aspects of the controls have been mastered can one become an omozukai, the most revered position in Bunraku.
The puppets themselves are painstakingly time consuming to construct. Although the puppeteers may create the costumes, specialists must create all the heads, hands and mechanics of the puppets. To make just a single puppet may take an entire year, perhaps more if the Ningyotsukai wish the puppet to have the ability to blink, move its lips and eyes or change its expression.